This book is about a teacher, Mr. Onodera, who experienced loss in the Great Hanshin Earthquake. After the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami he comes to the fictional Tohoku village, Toma, to fill in as a short term teacher and bring encouragement to the children. I chose to read this book because it was highly recommended on Self Taught Japanese where you can even read a translation of the beginning of the book.
I can only imagine that writing a fiction book about such an emotional topic would be challenging. I think the main topic of this book is facing the difficulties encountered while trying to help people that have experienced a natural disaster. It shows the difference in how local and outsider teachers and local and outsider volunteers interact with the children and with the town.
Mr. Onodera works hard to help the children, but he realizes that he can’t become deeply involved without hurting anyone no matter how carefully he treads. However, he realizes is is worth it to make the effort.
I enjoyed the principle of Toma District 1 Elementary School as a character. He is laid back and almost seems lazy on the surface, but in the background he is fighting hard for the students and making things happen. He’s full of wisdom, giving guidance to Mr. Onodera, and he makes it possible for him to be able to help the kids without being run out of town for his brash tactics.
This was a relatively short book, and I was a bit disappointed that a particular story line was left unresolved. However I think the inability to resolve some situations may be part of the message that Mayama was trying to get across.
I found the Japanese language used in the book to be somewhat challenging for two reasons. First, there is a lot of description inferring how people feel and their motivations. These are abstract ideas and it can be challenging for me to pick up on them in the book as well as real life, but I enjoy the challenge and hope to learn from it.
The second difficulty is that Mr. Onodera and his former students are from Osaka, which means they speak in Osaka-ben. I didn’t find it too bad with a bit of familiarity with Osaka-ben and the help of some google searches when needed, but it did slow things down a bit for me.
Even though this is fiction, I think this book is valuable for providing a more personal account of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami than you could get from the news alone. Also, according to his wikipedia article, Mayama experienced the Great Hanshin Earthquake so he has the background to write from Mr. Onodera’s perspective. This is only a small step, but reading this book may help in understanding how to process the aftermath of a disaster as either an insider or an outsider.